Mazda launched a sensible, practical and comfortable high-riding family car in the Scottish Highlands some weeks ago. Stop. Just let that sink it. An SUV introduced in an area known for some of the best driving roads in the country – somewhere where typically you might think to launch a sports car as it would really be able to stretch its legs and demonstrate its abilities.
There is, however, method to Mazda’s madness. More on that in a minute, but remember that the CX-5 is an important car for the company. Launched in 2012 it’s clocked up 70,000 sales. The second generation came out in 2018, and this 2022 model is an extensive update with a few styling tweaks, technical updates, and new trims and specs offered.
Prices for the range start at £28,000 and rise to £40k, the car tested, the Sport Black, is priced from £33,245. There’s a substantial 20-model range of trims and drivetrains available as well as automatics, 6-speed manuals, two and four-wheel drive versions. Under the bonnet of the Sport Black was a 2.0-litre Four-cylinder unit putting out 165bhp and 230Nm of torque with manual transmission and front-wheel drive. It can accelerate from rest to 62mph in 10.5 seconds and reach 125mph. Combined fuel consumption is 41.5mpg and CO2 emissions are 153g/km. Externally there are revisions to the front and rear bumpers with new headlights and taillights.
It’s packed with kit including dual climate control, reclining rear seats, sat nav with free five-year updates, radar cruise control, along with traffic support meant to reduce driver fatigue by assisting with the accelerator, brake and steering. It also has a form of torque vectoring, reversing camera, 8-way adjustable power driver’s seat, wireless phone charger and 10-speaker Bose sound system.
Behind the power-lifting tailgate you’ll find 510 litres of cargo space, expandable to 1636 with the seats folded. Inside there are plenty of power points, and storage compartments. Rear room is adequate for normal-sized adults, try it for size if you’re tall and you intend to ride in the back first. Up front the left foot rest comes up a fair bit, again sample it first if you have long-legs. It’s a great place to sit, with a real quality feel, and the only complaint I can find is that centre screen is still not touched-operated, oh and the stereo could do with a little more bass.
To the drive then, the challenging roads – tight, twisty, undulating roads up and down hills, complete with hairpins – was compounded by blustery winds and stormy rain. It should be nightmare scenario for a drive in any car, much less a school-run SUV.
Prepare to be shocked and to finally comprehend why Mazda brought us here. Forget the performance numbers, work the stick shift and you can keep this thing running at a very decent momentum, indeed once up to speed, you can even leave it in third for most of the time, although the temptation is to exploit the sweet change and amenable clutch to run through ratios 2-4 constantly. You’ll also be working the steering hard, and while devoid of much feel, it is superbly weighted and judged with great accuracy and quick response.
Despite its front-drive dynamics, it rarely suggests understeer, hardly ever scrabbles to put down its power, even in these conditions, and the size doesn’t make it feel at all unwieldy due to its brilliant composure. You’re thinking this all sounds too much like driving a sports car – however the ride is smooth, coping very well with the unusual road characteristics and keeping you relatively flat, yet, unflustered and settled at all times. Nothing ever feels aggressive or abrupt in this refined and mature car, even though you are actually having a real blast behind the wheel. It’s not just that it grips, turns and goes, but that it does it with such sophistication, while maintaining involvement and driver satisfaction, that is so remarkable about what Mazda has achieved here.
There are other greater value, better equipped, higher performance and frankly more alluring SUVs, but to benefit from such well-engineered and set-up dynamics, you’d have to dish out more to get up to Alfa Romeo Stelvio levels if you wanted to take your family on a driving holiday to Scotland – with the emphasis on ‘driving’! The CX-5 definitely puts the ‘Sports’ back in to ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’.